Now we leap over a thousand miles and see what they do with their eggplants up in the frozen waste lands. Actually, although I've spent nearly all my time in China in the south, I have often visited the north and it ain't so bad. The winters are cruel and Beijing is horrible any time of year, but I've been worse places than Jilin or Heilongjiang.
“Northeast China, historically also known as Manchuria*, is a geographical region of China. It consists specifically of the three provinces of Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang” – Wikipedia
(* Manchuria - a term the Chinese loathe. It is still painful reminder of the Japanese occupation of the 1930s and the puppet government which was set up, nominally under the last emperor.)
Dongbei or North-Eastern China (in Chinese it is east-northern) has cold, cold winters and fresh vegetables can be rare.
东北茄段 North-Eastern Eggplant /527
This is a very simple dish to be served alongside other dishes.
Ingredients (as listed) : 200g eggplant, a little red chilli pepper. 3g salt, sesame oil, sesame seed paste, an appropriate amount of coriander leaf (cilantro).
Peel the aubergines and chop the flesh into chunks. Chop the red chilli peppers and the coriander.
Boil the eggplant until cooked, then drain. Add salt and sesame oil and mix well. Sprinkle with red pepper and coriander. Serve.
Mix sesame seed paste and salt in a small dish and serve alongside as a dip.
天津茄泥 Tianjin Eggplant /527
Tianjin is a large industrial and port city on the coast near Beijing. Because of its location, its cuisine is heavily seafood orientated, but they also go in for a lot of donkey meat (delicious!) and mutton (ditto). It is a meat dominated cuisine, largely because of the difficulty in sourcing vegetables in the harsh winter months.
This is another simple dish.
Ingredients (as listed): 200g Eggplant, chilli oil, salt, soy sauce, coriander (cilantro), minced garlic.
The eggplant is washed, skinned and sliced into rounds; the coriander chopped.
The eggplant slices are arranged on a circular plate in overlapping slices working to the centre in a spiral making a neat mound resembling an upturned bowl . (I wish I could post the picture from the book – this is difficult to explain! I might have to prepare one and photograph it myself at the weekend. I have searched the interweb, but with no luck))
The prepared eggplant is then steamed until cooked. No timing is given. In the meantime a wok is put on to heat up. The chilli oil, salt, soy sauce and a “dribble” of water are added and cooked until fragrant. This 'sauce' is then poured over the eggplant, the coriander and minced garlic sprinkled on top. Serve.
京酱八宝茄 Beijing Eight Treasure Eggplant /527
This is a bit more complicated dish. ‘Eight Treasure’, like ‘Three Delicacy’ is a term used to describe many dishes from cheap rice porridges in school or factory canteens all the way up to intricate (and very expensive) imperial cuisine. There doesn't actually have to be 8 ingredients. Any time you see a Chinese number add the word ‘approximately’. Even 5-spice powder doesn't necessarily contain only five spices in China!
Ingredients (as listed): 200g eggplant, 100g squid tentacles, green onion, cucumber, red bell peppers, bean curd skin, chilli bean sauce (sold in Asian stores as doubanjiang or toubanjiang etc.) and salt.
The eggplant is washed and cut into strips, the squid tentacles washed and cut into segments, onions cut into flowers, cucumbers and red peppers washed and cut into thin strips.
The cucumbers and red peppers are wrapped in the bean curd skin to make rolls. These are then briefly steamed.
The eggplant and squid tentacles are quickly stir fried, then a little water is added along with the chilli bean paste and salt. This continues to cook until fragrant and the eggplant is fully done.
The vegetable wraps are arranged neatly around the edge of a circular plate and the eggplant and squid in sauce poured into the centre.
Very different from the southern eggplant dishes. Seems the northerners don't like eggplant skin (although the Beijing one retains the skin). I've never seen them skinned in the south.
The book doesn't include what I guess to be the most common eggplant dish – 茄子肉末 qié zi ròu mò – stir fried eggplant with minced pork, garlic, chilli pepper, green onion and coriander (cilantro), soy sauce etc. Served everywhere from at home, to roadside shacks to college or factory canteens, to up-market restaurants. Probably so well known there is no need to include it in a cookbook. Real comfort food.
I'll be back in a few days with info the other dishes Smithy asked about. I just received a phone call from one of my researchers who is up a mountain on the Guangxi - Hunan - Guizhou border area and has tracked down someone I've been trying to find for about three years, and discovered the person is willing to talk to me. A shaman. Allegedly a real one. If you never hear from me again, I've probably gone to the spirit world. I wonder what they eat there. And how they deal with ghostly eggplants.